Books by David A. Johnson

SNOW SOUNDS by David A. Johnson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 25, 2006

It's December 23, and a young boy is sleeping. Next to his bed is a special present. Outside his house, through the hush of an icy, blue morning, something is happening: Snow is falling! As the boy awakens, a snowplow moves by his house, clearing the way for the boy to go to school and making evocative sounds—swooshes and crashes and beeps. There are sounds inside the warm, golden-hued house too—crinkles and flushes, crackles and meows. The boy does some shoveling, making noises similar to that of the plow, and then with a honk, the bus arrives. It's time to go to school, but not without his present—a toy snowplow. Beautifully rendered ink-and-watercolor illustrations with an alternating pallet perfectly capture the shimmering snow and the house's cozy interior. The youngest children will delight in the simplicity and familiarity of the story, while older children will be fascinated by the use of onomatopoeia (a handy definition appears on the back of the book). A wonderful introduction to the world of poetic language. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
CALL ME MARIANNE by Jen Bryant
ANIMALS
Released: Feb. 1, 2006

A Brooklyn lad finds common ground with an oddly dressed lady in this fictional but not unlikely zoo encounter. Jonathan loves to watch the animals, and so does the woman in the black cape and tri-cornered hat; standing side by side in the reptile house, they introduce themselves: "My name is Miss Moore, but you can call me Marianne." And later: "No, I'm not a scientist—I'm a poet." Unsure just what a "poet" does, Jonathan accompanies her around the zoo as she explains how she puts down thoughts and observations in her notebook, tries to fit them together like puzzle pieces, and, with luck and patience, sometimes makes them into a poem. Shifting point of view from within the cages and out, Johnson supplies accurately drawn, very softly tinted animal and human figures, capturing both Jonathan's curiosity and the Moore's quirky, dignified grandeur. In the end, she leaves him with both a blank notebook and the assurance of future meetings—a double promise that young readers and writers may be moved to take her up on. Though a sample of poetry would have made a better sendoff than Bryant's biographical afterword, this does provide a tantalizing glimpse into one writer's creative process. (Picture book. 7-9)Read full book review >
WACKIEST WHITE HOUSE PETS by Gibbs Davis
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 2004

Opening with the arguable notion that "pets make a house a home," Davis identifies 15 unusual members of the sizeable menagerie (about 400 strong, so far) that presidents or their families have kept. Stars of the show range from Andrew Johnson's mice and Woodrow Wilson's lawn-cropping sheep to a pair of grizzlies sent to Teddy Roosevelt, elephants given to James Buchanan ("the first White House pets to arrive with their own trunks!"), and that Thanksgiving turkey pardoned by Abe Lincoln. All are illustrated with pale, witty scenes—picture Wilson dressed as Bo Peep—that add droll side commentary. Davis is addicted to exclamation points and given to padding the often scanty record with simplistic historical nuggets—"Madison adopted the Bill of Rights," Kennedy "launched the space race"—but his enthusiasm is engaging, and his topic sheds an unusual sidelight on life within our first families. (source list) (Nonfiction. 9-11)Read full book review >
ON SAND ISLAND by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 25, 2003

The author of Snowflake Bentley (1998) and the illustrator of Amy Cohn's Abraham Lincoln (2002) team up for an atmospheric picture of fishing village life on an island in Lake Superior several generations ago. Setting out to build a boat from salvaged boards, ten-year-old Carl trades labor with his adult neighbors for needed skills, nails, paint, and other supplies, then rows off on an idyllic, long-anticipated outing. Martin's measured prose—"Carl dreamed about boats. / He drew the boat he would build: / a little flat-bottomed pound boat / like the fishermen use . . . "—gives the episode a grave, formal feeling, and Johnson's delicately lined, low-contrast paintings respectfully depict a community in which "island neighbors are closer than cousins," always willing to give each other a hand. Thoughtful readers will appreciate this low-key tribute to a child's determination, and to the mutual respect that binds a community together. (Picture book. 7-9)Read full book review >
ABRAHAM LINCOLN by Amy L. Cohn
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

"See that tall, tall man in the tall black hat? Know who he is? That's right, he's the man on the penny—Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States," who here receives a thoroughly humanizing picture-book treatment. Editor and compiler Cohn teams with one of her contributors to From Sea to Shining Sea (1993) to craft a narrative that borrows freely from the American tall-tale tradition in style but that succeeds beautifully in turning the monument into first a child and then a man. Anecdotes and quotations are sprinkled liberally throughout, allowing Lincoln's humor and forthrightness to speak directly to the reader. From the first to the last page, the text refers the reader to the illustrations, which complete the humanizing task in fine style. Johnson's (Old Mother Hubbard, 1998) muted ink-and-watercolor washes frequently allow their subject to break the frame, emphasizing his gangling length and enormous feet and hands. One illustration of Lincoln as a young lawyer features a dramatically foreshortened Abe at his desk, looking out from behind his paper in mid-story, gigantic feet and bristling quills dominating the foreground. A later illustration depicts the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln's careworn face stares directly at the reader over a rumpled tie, a quill in one huge hand. Less a formal biography than a biographical story, this offering depends upon previous exposure to Lincoln's career—the term "Confederate" is introduced toward the end with no previous contextualizing, for instance—but as a literary overlay to that history, it succeeds magnificently. A timeline is appended, but there are neither source notes nor suggestions for further reading. (Picture book/biography. 7-11)Read full book review >
OLD MOTHER HUBBARD by David A. Johnson
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 1998

Although fine lines and a low contrast palette give Johnson's paintings a faded, smudgy look, he effectively captures the classic nursery rhyme's flavor, decking the matronly Mother Hubbard out in sweeping 19th-century gowns that are ruffled, fur- trimmed and elaborately accessorized, then dispatching her to a series of elegantly appointed shops and stalls for goods to lavish on her pampered canine. Johnson drops or rewrites several of the standard version's verses, and adds two of his own that permanently finish off said dog. The illustrations are skillfully rendered, but his interpretations are so free that young readers will search in vain for details such as the tripe, the coat, the linen, the hose, and even the bare cupboard that sparks Mother Hubbard's chain of errands; the visual humor, next to James Marshall's sly, silly take in Old Mother Hubbard and Her Wonderful Dog (1991), is decidedly mild. Notwithstanding Johnson's strong stylistic ties to illustrators such as Randolph Caldecott and E. Boyd Smith, adults are the likeliest audience for this volume. (Picture book. 4-6) Read full book review >